I am reposting this article from last year because the 2016 pageant is coming up this weekend, and I believe it is one of the most unique and important events for our community.

Last year, I was assigned to cover the 2nd annual Ms. South Texas Senior America Pageant in Harlingen, Texas. I sincerely did not have any expectations; I was just there on assignment. But I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. Yesterday – January 22, 2015 – I attended a Tea Reception for the new contestants at Golden Palms’ Texas Room where I had the opportunity to interview some of them and take the photos featured on this post.

My experience co-sponsoring on-stage events is good due to my career in destination marketing. I am familiar with the chaos that goes on behind the curtain. It takes tremendous organization and coordination skills to put together a beauty pageant, and nobody can do this better than Elia Lopez. Nothing had prepared me for what I experienced. The pageant’s program flowed like clockwork, but this particular pageant is much more than a well orchestrated series of performances. This pageant inspires.

This pageant is about living life to the fullest. It is about overcoming fears and limitations. It is about a woman’s legacy.  Last year’s winner was 81 year old Mary Jo Vela who brought down the house with her dance performance of New York, New York. “It was a dream come true,” said Vela during yesterday’s tea. “I had always wanted to dance on stage, but motherhood, being a wife to my wonderful husband, plus teaching delayed my dream. At one time doctors did not believe I could walk again,” said Vela adding she’s had 18 back surgeries throughout her adult life.

From left: Elka Jaross and Linda Hagins

Vela looked radiant after a year of reign. She cherishes all the new friends she’s made and believes that only a positive attitude will help overcome obstacles. The “Philosophy of Life” competition is the most important, and each contestant shares her own philosophy during the pageant.   This year’s contestants could hardly seat still, for the anticipation of the event is nothing but nerve wrecking.  They were all smiles as they posed for the group picture shared on this post. I couldn’t help but notice the sparkle in their eyes. The perkiness in the room.

“I met Elia Lopez during a business boot camp in Brownsville, and by the time I left the event, I was a  pageant contestant.” said Elka Jaross who agreed Elia’s passion is hard to resist.  Linda Hagins, FNP-C, met reigning queen Mary Jo Vela during a Rotary event. After hearing Vela share her experience as the South Texas Senior Pageant Queen, Hagins knew this event would be something her own mother would enjoy. Her mother, Linda Gaston, who dreamt of being a dancer as a child, but religious beliefs and family -who did not see dancing as a proper activity for a girl- prevented her from fulfilling her dream.  But things have changed. “The Lord has given me the freedom I did not have before,” said Gaston. “It is almost like He has allowed for me to break open and be OK with it, for I am not dishonoring Him. He wants me to share the talent He gave me and because of this event I am able to do it.” When Gaston told me the piece of music she is dancing to I was stupefied, but I am not sharing this with readers so they plan to attend the pageant. It is going to be wonderful!

2013 Pageant Finalists: Ann Blankenship and Bidgie Weber

There are a few new things this year according to event founder Elia Lopez. And before I forget, this year’s pageant is titled “Diamonds are Forever.” Elia is giving a Community Service Award to the contestant who worked as a volunteer for the most hours in the past three years. Elia is making sure all the hours are carefully evaluated and verified.  A stage design company has been hired , and Elia is designing personal backdrops that go with each contestant’s introductory bio.

Something that will certainly make this year’s event a memorable one is the talent competition. According to Elia there will be folkloric, flamenco, western and modern dances in addition to singing, storytelling and even stand-up comedy! Plus an opening dance performance by contestants from the two previous pageants that sounds incredible, but I promised Elia I would not reveal any of the details. Mary Jo Vela did share the music she has chosen for her farewell performance: The Impossible Dream.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Sunday February 28th at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10.00 per person and available through the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium’s website or at the ticket booth on 1204 Fairpark Blvd. in Harlingen, Texas. Auditorium’s phone: (956) 216-5991.  For pageant information please contact Elia Lopez at alopez1381@gmail.com Event will start at 2:00 PM – Doors will open at 1:00 PM. Do not miss it.

PAGEANT CONTESTANTS PICTURED ABOVE STARTING FROM THE LEFT: Mary Jo Vela, Lorraine Sacastano, Genie Pena, Sylvia Portales, Connie Gonzalez, Delma Rodriguez, Linda Gaston, Hortencia R. Cavazos, Elka Jaross, Tina Puente and pageant director Elia Lopez holding a photo of Teresa Burkholder who could not atend the event. For more on the pageant and last year’s event please click here.